Light to moderate alcohol consumption has generally been considered to have some health benefits, including possibly reducing risk of cognitive decline.
However, two studies reported today at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference in Vancouver suggest that moderate alcohol use in late-life, heavier use earlier in life, and 'binge' drinking in late-life increase risk of cognitive decline.
They measured frequency of current and past alcohol use at the beginning, mid-point (years 6 and 8) and late phases (years 10 and 16) of the study. The researchers assessed participants at the end of the study for mild cognitive impairment and dementia.
At baseline, 40.6% were non-drinkers, 50.4% were light drinkers (0 to 7 drinks/week), and 9.0% were moderate drinkers (7 to 14 drinks/week). Heavy drinkers (14 drinks/week) were excluded.
The research discovered that women who reported drinking more in the past than at the beginning of the study were at 30% increased risk of developing cognitive impairment.
Moderate drinkers at baseline or at mid-point had similar risk of cognitive impairment to non-drinkers; however, moderate drinkers in the late phase of the study were roughly 60% more likely to develop cognitive impairment.
However, in contrast, women who changed from non-drinking to drinking over the course of the study had a 200% increased risk of cognitive impairment.
"We found that heavier use earlier in life, moderate use in late-life, and transitioning to drinking in late-life were associated with an increased risk of developing cognitive impairment.
"These findings suggest that alcohol use in late-life may not be beneficial for cognitive function in older women," explains lead researcher, Tina Hoang.
"It may be that the brains of oldest old adults are more vulnerable to the effects of alcohol, but it is also possible that factors associated with changing alcohol use related to coping or loss could be involved.
"Clinicians should carefully assess their older patients for both how much they drink and any changes in patterns of alcohol use," Hoang added.
Alcohol - friend or foe? You decide...
Red Wine: The Good, The Bad And The Ugly
May Protect Against Breast Cancer
In a study at the University of Calabria, Italy, the resveratrol compound was also found to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2011/09/30/red-wine-could-prevent-breast-cancer_n_988914.html" target="_hplink">block the cancer-fuelling effects of the female hormone oestrogen</a>, as well as inhibiting the growth of breast cancer cells that have become hormone resistant.
A Glass A Day Could Increase Breast Cancer Risk
In a conflicting study at Harvard University it was found that <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/8862424/One-glass-of-wine-a-day-increases-risk-of-breast-cancer-research.html" target="_hplink">women who drink just four small glasses of wine a week increase their risk of developing breast cancer by 15%</a>, while those who drank up to four units a day were 50% more likely to develop breast cancer.
A <a href="http://www.ajcn.org/content/95/2/326.abstract" target="_hplink">recent study by Spanish researchers</a> found that the alcohol in red wine and the grapes themselves may both be beneficial for the heart. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/30/drinking-benefits_n_1233544.html" target="_hplink">The study analysed the levels of chemicals affecting inflammation and plaque on artery walls of 67 men after they drank red wine, red wine without alcohol, and gin</a>. When the man drank the alcoholic red wine and gin, levels of chemicals that reduce inflammation increased, and when the men drank the non-alcoholic red wine, levels of chemicals that reduce plaque increased.
No Proof A Glass A Day Is Good For The Heart
A study by the Centre For Addiction And Mental Health, found that while there is a positive link between alcohol use and ischaemic heart disease, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/01/31/no-proof-a-glass-of-wine-a-day-is-good-for-the-heart_n_1243579.html?1328012457" target="_hplink">it cannot be assumed for all drinkers, even for those who have a limited intake</a>. Dr Juergen Rehm, director of social and epidemiological research at CAMH, said: "It's complicated. "We see substantial variation across studies, in particular for an average consumption of one to two drinks a day."
May Help Prevent Gum Disease
Research at Quebec's Universite Laval in Canada, found that <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/4782826.stm" target="_hplink">chemicals found in red wine called polyphenols can block production of free radical molecules, which can damage gum tissue</a>, it was reported by the BBC. However, dentists warn there are other risks associated with drinking wine, and people should not think it was good for their teeth.
May Lower Risk Of Dementia
A study at the Institute of Preventive Medicine in Copenhagen found that <a href="http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2002/11/021112080015.htm" target="_hplink">people who drink wine weekly or monthly are two times less likely to develop dementia</a>. However, study author, Thomas Truelsen, MD, PhD, emphasised that "These results don't mean that people should start drinking wine or drink more wine than they usually do."
Helps To Fend Off Colds
A year-long Spanish study or 4,000 volunteers found that <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/1986514.stm" target="_hplink">drinking wine - especially red - can prevent people developing colds</a>. Professor Ron Eccles, director of the Common Cold Centre at Cardiff University said the results may be due to the antioxidant properties of red wine.
May Ward Off Lung Cancer
Researchers from the University of Santiago de Compestela in Spain found that drinking red wine may help to ward off lung cancer. They found <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/3959121.stm" target="_hplink">each glass a day reduced the risk of lung cancer by 13% compared to non-drinkers</a>. But Cancer Research UK case doubt on the findings, warning excess drinking increases the risk of other cancers, it was reported by the BBC.
Commenting on the research, a spokesperson from the Alzheimer's Society said in a statement: "There has been a lot of research into the link between alcohol and dementia. What is becoming increasingly apparent is that while an occasional tipple could actually help to protect the brain, binge drinking could be linked to an increased cognitive decline.
"These latest studies help reinforce the link between heavy drinking and dementia, but we need much more research to better understand exactly how drinking alcohol affects the brain. In the meantime, eating well and exercising regularly are key ways of reducing your risk of dementia."
Little is known about the cognitive effects of heavy episodic (or 'binge') drinking in older people. Binge drinking is a pattern of alcohol consumption in which someone who is not otherwise a heavy drinker consumes several drinks on one occasion.
"We know that binge drinking can be harmful," Dr. Iain Lang from the Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry, University of Exeter said in a statement.
"For example, it can increase the risk of harm to the cardiovascular system, including the chance of developing heart disease, and it is related to increased risk of both intentional and unintentional injuries."
Lifestyle Changes To Help Prevent Dementia
Drink Decaffeinated Coffee
A study at Mount Sinai School of Medicine found that <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/02/01/decaffeinated-coffee-preserves-memory-diabetes_n_1246240.html" target="_hplink">decaffeinated coffee improves the brain's energy metabolism - linked to cognitive decline</a> - in those with Type 2 diabetes. "This is the first evidence showing the potential benefits of decaffeinated coffee preparations for both preventing and treating cognitive decline caused by type 2 diabetes, ageing, and/ or neurodegenerative disorders," said lead researcher, Dr Giulio Maria Pasinett.
Play Brain-Teasing Games
Everyday <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2011/12/01/puzzles-and-exercise-help-beat-dementia-symptoms_n_1122502.html" target="_hplink">games, puzzles and tasks were able to postpone decline in cognitive function and the ability to carry out everyday tasks, in dementia patients, for at least a year</a>, according to research from the University of Erlangen in Germany, published in the journals BMC Medicine.
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2011/12/20/eat-less-remember-more-and-other-memory-boosters_n_1160584.html" target="_hplink">Eating fewer calories could help boost memory and cognitive function</a>, according to a study at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Rome. Researchers hope to mimic the same effect with a drug in the future, bringing hope to Alzheimer's sufferers as well as those suffering from injury-related memory loss.
Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Centre and School of Medicine found that <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2011/11/30/eating-fish-protects-against-alzheimers_n_1120156.html" target="_hplink">people who ate baked or grilled fish regularly reduced their risk of developing Alzheimer's</a>. Reseracher Cyrus Raji said: "The results showed that people who consumed baked or broiled (grilled) fish at least one time per week had better preservation of grey matter volume on MRI in brain areas at risk for Alzheimer's disease."
Play The Wii Fit
<a href="http://lifestyle.aol.co.uk/2012/01/17/why-a-wii-workout-could-be-better-than-the-gym-for-over-50s/" target="_hplink">Working out using virtual games such as the Wii Fit could slow cognitive decline in the over 50s</a>, researchers from Union College in the US found. Participants aged between 58 and 99 were given a 3D exercise game to play. Compared to the control group who were asked to use a regular exercise bike, the 'cybercycle' group had a 23% decrease in advancement of mild cognitive impairment and showed improved 'executive function'.
Do The Seven-Step Plan
A study in The Lancet Neurology suggest that <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2011/07/19/new-study-shows-seven-way_n_901934.html" target="_hplink">3m cases of Alzheimer's across the world could be prevented in seven simple ways</a>. The report recommends quitting smoking, increasing physical activity, controlling your blood pressure and diabetes risk factors as well as managing depression and obesity to help combat the disease.